Christian Dior in Black, White, and Color-------
Christian Dior may have been reserved in person, but he left volumes of quotable lines about his work. One example: “Black and white could be enough.” Apt for this particular season, and also for the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, Normandy, where it is writ large on the wall at the exhibition Dior: The Legendary Images: Great Photographers and Dior, open through September 21.
“Museums are almost replacing books. [An exhibition is] like a living book, and that’s especially true for [ones about] fashion,” noted the show’s curator, Florence Müller (Though it should be note that Rizzoli has released a book corresponding with the show, and the tome is pretty impressive in and of itself.) “What’s beautiful about fashion photography is that beyond an iconic piece like the Bar jacket, you have the makeup, the look, and all the refinement of a time that makes you dream. In the end, it’s like a film. It’s magnified beauty.”
Black and white might well have been enough: Hollywood-worthy moments abound in the exhibition. Alongside the Bar suit is Pat England’s original shot of the ensemble at Dior’s first presentation of the New Look, which made the designer a star overnight in 1947; there’s Richard Avedon’s Dovima and the elephants; a Marc Riboud shot of Audrey Hepburn exuberant over a dress in 1959; an early fashion series by Irving Penn; house images by Willy Maywald; iconic images of the model Renée by Henry Clarke, Beaton, Blumenfeld, Newton, Demarchelier, and beyond—all in black and white. Then comes vibrant color, from the first fashion shoots in exotic locales by Norman Parkinson, Corinne Day, Sarah Moon, Steven Klein, Bruce Weber, Mondino, and Inez & Vinoodh, the duo behind the house’s current Secret Garden campaign. But rather than present Dior’s photographs chronologically, Müller sought to bridge past and present thematically, which led to a few surprises—not least a trove of color negatives freshly unearthed from the Elle archives.
“It’s always thrilling to rediscover something you thought you knew by heart,” notes Müller, who started by leafing through sixty years of fashion magazines—the French editions of Elle and Marie Claire and the archives of Vogue Paris and American Vogue. “In the case of the Bonbon dress from Dior’s winter 1947 collection, we found an image by Emile Savitry we’d never seen before—and then we realized we actually had the dress,” she notes. The Chantecler dress from the controversial 1954 ‘H’ collection is echoed in a vintage photograph by Clifford Coffin, a star lensman in his day (one of his photographs headlines the exhibition). The Trapeze dress from Yves Saint Laurent’s triumphant 1957 debut at Dior is front and center in one display. Another archival picture of a last-minute fitting of a dress once worn by Rita Hayworth finds an incarnation upstairs, in a 2012 iteration by Raf Simons.
“Exhibitions should be a spectacle—beautiful, strange, curious, bizarre,” said Müller, citing John Galliano’s Tibetan-inspired creation and his 1997 Masai-inspired outing. “When you stand back, you realize that a fifties dress could be contemporary, or that the contemporary creation was completely in the spirit of what M. Dior liked. You realize that fashion is not a museum,” Müller concluded. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”